For the next development cycle in the world of beach soccer, FIFA has mapped out a strategy that involves identifying member associations which have taken an active step in developing the discipline and backing their ability to continue that work.

Of course, 2011 will also be marked by the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Italy, and the months leading up to the most prestigious competition in the sport will feature numerous qualifiers for the main event. Indeed, the contenders from Asia and Oceania can already begin their preparations, having stamped their tickets to Ravenna 2011 in the last few weeks.

In mid-December last year, a course focusing on both coaching and refereeing was held in Peru for 21 coaches and 25 local referees. That it happened at all was evidence of the sterling work carried out by FIFA’s association members behind the scenes, the need for such a course having been identified and the event planned at a seminar organised by FIFA in 2009.

Overseen by FIFA instructors Hector Francisco Petrasso of Argentina and Bolivar Montero Alfaro of Costa Rica, the course ought to help Peru progress in the world of beach soccer. With better coaches and referees, Peruvian beach soccer tournaments will experience a boost in quality that should make qualifying for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup a genuinely attainable goal in the near future. The country has never yet won its way through to the global showcase.

In January, the first FIFA beach soccer event of the 2011-2014 development cycle got under way in Qatar, where a course run by Brazilian FIFA instructor Gustavo Zloccowick was held for coaches. The national team boss of neighbouring Bahrain, Zloccowick made waves by leading his side to the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.

Beach Soccer around the globe
The first big tournament of the year took place in Brazil, where the hosts were joined by fellow powerhouses Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico in competing for the Copa Latina. There was a surprise on the cards as well, with Brazil’s stranglehold on the sport in the Americas truly put to the test. Brazilian pivot Benjamin celebrated his 300th appearance during the competition, but the four-time FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup winners were ultimately denied victory by Uruguay on penalties.

There was an upset in Oceania too as hosts Tahiti took the continental title and a place at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna 2011 at the expense of huge favourites Solomon Islands. Due to organise the global event in 2013, the French-speaking territory had never previously booked themselves a berth at the final tournament.

In Asia, lastly, 11 teams locked horns in pursuit of three spots at Ravenna 2011, an increase of four nations since the last FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers and a reflection of the discipline’s growing strength on the continent. Japan emerged victorious and will make the trip to Italy along with fellow perennial contenders Iran, while the berth earned by qualifying hosts Oman represents a historic first.

What they said
"In 2009, seven teams attempted to qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup from the Asian Zone. This year, we had 11, four of whom had never participated in the qualifiers before. This was thanks in large part to the regional seminars organised by FIFA in Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka which made it possible to educate and motivate the member associations,” Josep Ponset, Head of Competitions at Beach Soccer Worldwide.

"The fact that Tahiti beat the favourites, Solomon Islands, in a historic match on home soil and qualified for their first ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will undoubtedly be a massive boost for the development of this sport, especially considering that the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2013 will be held in Tahiti,” Patrick Jacquement, Technical Director of the OFC.

“We organised a beach soccer tournament spread out across five different towns and with around 70 teams taking part. The beach soccer course helped us considerably in terms of preparing the coaches and referees who took part in the tournament,” Jaime Drago, Beach Soccer Promoter at the Peruvian Football Association.

Next up
Later this month, the first ever international beach soccer competition for clubs, the Mundialito de Clubes, will take place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Among the teams due to hit the sand will be Barcelona, AC Milan, Boca Juniors, Flamengo and Corinthians.